A third former Fullerton police officer was arraigned today on charges stemming from the in-custody death of transient schizophrenic Kelly Thomas last year.
Former Officer Joe Wolfe, 37, was indicted on one felony count each of involuntary manslaughter and a count of excessive force, to which he pleaded
not guilty. The indictment was returned Monday and unsealed today.
His attorneys, Michael Nasatir and Vicki Podberesky, issued a statement saying Wolfe acted appropriately in the arrest.
``Joseph Wolfe is an innocent man and the District Attorney's original decision to decline filing criminal charges against Mr. Wolfe was the right one,'' the statement says. ``Whether this change in course is the result of well-meaning, but misguided external pressure upon the District Attorney's Office, or a political effort to quell perceived public unrest, we are confident that when the evidence is presented in a court of law Mr. Wolfe will be exonerated of all criminal wrongdoing.''
The attorneys said Wolfe ``was a dedicated and hard-working police officer who took appropriate action in the face of a very difficult, and ultimately tragic, situation. Over a year has passed since the Kelly Thomas incident, and we are aware of no new evidence or information which would warrant the bringing of charges against Mr. Wolfe at this time.''
Ten witnesses testified before the Orange County Grand Jury over three days, beginning Sept. 19.
Former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 40, also is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force in the July 5, 2011, beating of Thomas at the Fullerton Transportation Center.
Former Officer Manuel Ramos, 38, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
Police went to the Fullerton Transportation Center in response to a 911 call from the nearby Slidebar nightclub that someone was trying to break into cars outside the club.
Wolfe and Ramos confronted Thomas at the transportation center. While Wolfe went through a backpack Thomas had with him, Ramos and Thomas engaged in
a lengthy, often sarcastic and prickly, exchange.
Wolfe found letters in the backpack addressed to an attorney, prompting him and Ramos to discuss arresting Thomas for possession of stolen property. Thomas ran from the officers after Ramos held his fists up to him and ordered him to follow his instructions. That touched off the skirmish that ultimately included six officers as they worked to restrain Thomas.
Wolfe is due back at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana on Nov. 2 for a pretrial hearing.
- City News Service